Holcocephala Calva Robber Fly - ISO 200, 60mm f/13, 1/60 Second
Macro,  Photo Gear

Settings for Using Flash for Macro Photography on Olympus OM-D Cameras

Starting out using flash for macro photography can be a bit intimidating.  But with a little practice, you can easily master macro flash photography. 

I’ve wrote a bunch of blog posts on a variety of macro photography topics.  I recently wrote a series on different flashes and diffusers to use for macro photography.

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In this blog, I wanted to take a step back and talk about the settings that I use when shooting with flash for macro photography.  I’ve also wrote a blog about some of the features and settings for macro photography that are built in the Olympus OM-D cameras.  But this blog is all about flash settings and how I adjust them in the field.

Settings for Shooting Flash in the Olympus OM-D

Shooting Mode

I shoot in manual mode when using flash for macro photography.  For flash macro photography, I want the ability to independently change aperture and shutter speed when shooting with flash. 

STF-8 Twin Macro Flash Controller
STF-8 Twin Macro Flash Controller

Flash Mode

I generally shoot in Manual Flash Mode for macro photography.  This allows you to change the flash power in 1/3 stop increments giving you good control of the lighting of the subject.

If you are using the Olympus FC-WR Wireless Radiowave Flash Commander or the STF-8 Twin Macro Flash, you can also easily control the manual flash power without going into Olympus’ Super Control Panel.

Shutter Speed

When shooting flash photography, I normally keep the shutter speed around 1/60th of a second with image stabilization on.  This is about the slowest shutter speed that works for me without my movement impacting the image.

In brighter conditions, I will also set the shutter speed to the maximum flash sync speed of 1/250 of a second to light the image but keep the background dark.

Aperture

Besides flash power, aperture is the setting that I adjust the most depending on the subject and the lighting conditions.  I generally like to shoot between f/9 and f/13 with f/13 being my preference to keep most of my subject in focus.  But this may not always be possible given the lighting conditions on the subject.

Hover Fly- ISO 200, 60mm, f/9.0, 1/60 Second
Hover Fly- ISO 200, 60mm, f/9.0, 1/60 Second

Flash Power

Like I mentioned above, I like to shoot in manual flash mode.  I generally start around 1/8 power for flash and will adjust depending on the lighting conditions and the amount of specular highlights on the subject.

ISO

I normally keep my ISO at 200 to keep noise at a minimum.  I will occasionally raise my ISO in dark shooting conditions when I don’t want to increase the flash power too much due to the amount of specular highlights.

Remote Flash Control

If you are using a flash bracket, you will need an Off Camera Flash Sync Cord, another flash on the hot shoe as a trigger for infrared communication or a wireless controller for radiowave communications.

I like to use the Olympus FC-WR Wireless Radiowave Flash Commander with the Olympus FL-700WR Flash.  The FC-WR Wireless Radiowave Flash Commander will only work with the FL-700WR Flash unless you use an Olympus FR-WR Wireless Radiowave Flash Receiver attached to the flash.

The FC-WR Commander lets you quickly change flash settings without having to go into the camera settings.  Radiowave communications are also more reliable than IR communications for flash.

Crab Spider - ISO 200, f/13, 1/60 Second
Crab Spider – ISO 200, f/13, 1/60 Second

Live View Boost

By default, the view on your view finder and LCD screen will reflect the exposure settings on the camera.  For example, if you set the aperture to F22 and a shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second, your view will probably be really dark. 

If you are using a flash for macro photography, your exposure will be influenced by the flash. You will need to override this setting using Live View Boost so Live View does not reflect the exposure settings. This will enable you to compose and focus your photograph.

To turn on Live View Boost, Select On1 in the Cog – D2 – Live View Boost – Manual Shooting Menu.

Custom Modes

I have many different settings on my camera depending on whether I’m doing flash or natural light photography.  I use the custom dials on my OM-D E-M1 Mark III to store these settings so I can quickly switch between natural light and flash settings. 

Custom Mode Dials are easy to set up.  Set up your camera with the intended settings, go to the first menu (Camera 1) – Reset / Custom Modes – Assign to Custom Mode.  Select the Custom Mode number to assign to these settings.

Written by Martin Belan

Related Posts

A Comparison of Flash and Diffuser Options for Macro Photography
Is the Olympus STF-8 Twin Macro Flash Worth the Price?
Should you Shoot with On or Off Camera Flash for Macro Photography?

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